Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why is Pathfinder 576 Pages Long?

I admit that sometimes I feel a modicum of pressure to get with the system and delve into a more mainstream fantasy RPG. This is not because I am dissatisfied with old school D&D. Indeed, I could happily play homebrewish whitebox or basic/expert set D&D for the rest of my gaming days. Most of the pressure comes from the fact that I quite enjoy gaming with new people at cons, game days, and meetups, but most people at these kinds of events are only familiar with the current mainstream RPGs and not the funky old games I love the most. These days most gamers don't really have a clue what old school D&D is about, and they don't really care.

If one wanted to select a fantasy RPG based solely on popularity there are really only two choices: Pathfinder or D&D 4e. Although 4e is a unique game that's great for what it is, I wouldn't consider getting into it because of how tactical combat drags on the roleplaying. That leaves Pathfinder...

Pathfinder looks interesting on many levels. The community is large and vibrant. There seem to be nearly universal accolades on the quality of the rules, and there are a lot of great authors producing material (including China Mieville...!).

The few times I've flipped through the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, however, my eyes have kind of glazed over. 576 pages it is. I can hardly imagine how any game with 576 pages of rules can actually be PLAYABLE, much less enjoyable.

Seriously, can someone out there help me understand:

1. Do most people actually use most of the 576 pages of rules, or is there a small core of rules surrounded by lots of optional fluff no one uses?

2. Do players have to own and read the rulebook to be able to play?

3. Are the rules as complex as the length of the rulebook implies?

4. Would learning the rules well enough to run a game require a deep thorough reading of the entire rulebook?


Here's a fun lil' Conan video (music by Dan Deacon):


  1. You have opened the flood gates. I can only watch with devilish delight as the edition wars find a new home on your comment thread. :)

  2. I own the Pathfinder rulebook but haven't used it. The girth comes from the DM materials packed inside. It's a combo PHB/DMG in one book.

  3. Well if the Pathfinder rulebook didn't have any spells or magic items the book would "only" be about 300 pages long.

  4. It's edition 3.75, so I imagine that a bunch of those pages will be taken up with prestige classes, feats and spells, and I'm guessing that, yes, players do need all of that to build and level up their characters.

    It's probably a great game for players, but a real chore for the DM.

  5. If you can play 3.5 you can play Pathfinder. The girth, as has been stated, comes from the combination of the D&D PHB and DMG into one book.

  6. Rules Cyclopedia is 300+ pages, and it's pretty similar in terms of what's all in there. I'd say they are probably about equal in terms of general playability (not sure if that's a positive thing or not).

  7. Looking at my Pathfinder book, 150 pages of spells, 100 pages of magic items, Races are 10 pages, Classes are 55 pages, Skills are 26 pages, Feats are 28 pages, Equipment 26 pages, Combat 28 pages, Magic (rules for casting and such) 18 pages, Prestige classes 22 pages, GM stuff 62 pages.
    Really, you can learn to run the game is about 100 pages and only read the rest when you need it.

  8. The Pathfinder core rule book is basically the PH and DMG in one big book, so it covers a lot of ground. Not to shrill for them or anything, but they sell the PDF for 10 bucks, so it's pretty inexpensive to see if it's something you'd like.

  9. I run pathfinder. I converted my games about a year ago. I run pathfinder in Forgotten Realms. My version of Faerun is much different than the published version in many respects. Though what my version of a campaign setting it or is not is not apropos the topic. For an old hat gamer like me pathfinder was an easy choice.

    Like Steven says it's mostly 100 pages of actual 'rules' and the rest is spells, feats, equipment lists and other fun. I did not realize that classes was 55 pages long. Maybe that's why I have not actually read EVERY class yet. The Advanced book is not quite as big but it completely focuses on player help. The DM Guide (forget the name off the top of my head) focuses on 'how to run' and makes a good effort on trying to show new dms how to run very similar to the DMG II from 3.5.

    The big changes are that the pathfinder book uses a stat called Combat Maneuver Defense as the CR that one needs to make successful combat maneuvers against another. This rule incorporates all the fun combat maneuvers like bull rush, sunder, grapple (thank GOD), disarm and feint into one easy-to-use mechanic. They also streamlined skills. As a for instance they took the skills listen, search and spot and turned them into perception. They also beefed up the classes so that every level a player gets something to add to his character.

    There are some smaller changes to the classes but on the whole the Pathfinder rules are very similar to 3.5 albeit with the pcs being more powerful.

  10. I'm with you. When I tried to get back into RPing after a long absence during the 3.5 era, I bought the rulebooks, read about 10 pages of each and gave up, scratching my head. Not enough Biff! Zip! and Kerrang! in those books for me, I guess.

  11. The core of the game - "this is how things are done, unless something says otherwise" - is manageable. Like 3.x, it's an exception-based design, where once you've learned the core, the majority of the additional material is descriptions of class abilities, feats, spells, skills, and so on, each of which serves (in the abstract) as a discrete modifier for the base rules and only matters if someone has it. It's a proliferation of exceptions rather than additional subsystems.

    The actual rules are pretty easy to learn, and there's no necessity (or reason) to memorize every exception ahead of time.

  12. I have just recently begun getting into pathfinder. I own virtually the entire 3.5 Wizards library from having a store discount when I worked for my FLGS, so I figured I might as well get into Pathfinder. If you play 3.5, I don't even think you really need to read the Pathfinder rules, do you? I am not sure how much is changed in all honesty, but it doesn't seem like too much.

  13. How many books in all did AD&D have? How many pages are they all together. And people still manage to use more than just the basic 3. How many pages are the AD&D main three all together? bet its a lot.

  14. 1st edition PH, MM and DMG was less then 476 pages total (many pages of indexes and duplicate charts in there), that was with monsters of course. You'd need to throw in the pathfinder bestiary to have equivalent content so that would bring pathfinder up to about 900 pages. Insist on having 3 books by adding in the pathfinder game mastery guide (which is a darned good book) would raise the page count to over 1200 pages.

  15. If you know how to play 3.5 all you really need to read up on in Pathfinder is the few changes to character creation, a quick read of how CMB and CMD work(very simple) and maybe scan for some of the changes to feats and skills. Everything else is pretty much 3.5.

    As for running Pathfinder I think it is just as easy as 4e. Actually I can DM on the fly with Pathfinder a lot more easily than I can with 4e, but that's just my opinion. You have an XP budget and you spend it until you have the encounter built, same thing you do in 4e. For NPCs they are very easy to throw together and if you have the Game Masters Guide($10 pdf @ paizo) you have a quite a few pre-made for you. Run your monsters straight out of the bestiary and it is no problem to run an adventure with less than 10 min prep.

  16. Actually, you technically don't even need the pdf, as Pathfinder has on online free SRD.

  17. Why is Pathfinder 576 Pages Long?

    Because 3.5 doesn't précis easily. ;)

  18. If you can play 3.5 you can play Pathfinder.

    Over the last ~25 years of gaming I've never actually played 3.5, or 3, or 2, or even 1 really (except for using some PHB and DMG stuff in B/X games). For better or worse I have no point of reference for modern FRPGs.

    It's a proliferation of exceptions rather than additional subsystems.

    This is what I predicted, but was hoping to verify here.

    Actually, you technically don't even need the pdf, as Pathfinder has on online free SRD.

    Thanks Flip - this is perfect! For anyone who hasn't seen this, you can look at all of the
    Pathfinder Rules on-line.

    Sooo... I took a look over the SRD and I think Pathfinder is a game I could enjoy playing. It would NEVER work with my current paying groups, however, which are composed mostly of not-otherwise-gamers. I get the impression a lot of the fun of Pathfinder would come out of players becoming knowledgeable about applying the minutia of the rulebook to build their characters. Because of this I'd be pretty intimidated to run a Pathfinder game at a con for experienced players. I wouldn't mind playing though.

    Generally, one of the things I despise the most is flipping through rulebooks at the table. Pathfinder has so many spells, classes, feats, etc. it's hard to imagine someone with a smaller brain (like me) running a game without constantly referring to the book...

  19. it's hard to imagine someone with a smaller brain (like me) running a game without constantly referring to the book...
    I use the pdf and the search feature that comes with my pdf reader.

  20. I am currently on baby-hiatus from a Pathfinder game I've been playing in for about two years. I'd say your general conclusions are correct. I'll also add in those two years, I've never bought the core rulebook and instead simply play from the SRD.

    It's an exception based system, so as a player the only exceptions you need to worry about are the ones that pertain to your character. As a DM, however, whoah. My DM is a huge planner and prepper, so he's very successful at mastering all the minutiae.

    The only issue with running my character from the SRD is the splatbook issue -- others (including the DM) incorporate feats, skills, etc from all sorts of other books of which I have no knowledge. I have a little "book-envy" sometimes when someone busts out a new feat that sounds fun.

    The other thing I'd add is that the setting is awesome. It's kitchen-sink and has an old school vibe.

  21. The SRD download page is great with lot's of extras


  22. Oooops...meant to say great for harvesting. I like anywhere you can look for new ideas. But on the page count it's even harder for me to believe you need 1,000 +/- in 4e for the PHB.

    My page count rule has remained a pretty steady barometer:

    128=Rule Book
    32=Module / Adventure

    Anytime the numbers start going over that there better be a damn good reason or somebody just needs to learn to edit :)


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